Numlock News: December 9, 2021 • Horse Races, Camel Pageants, Bass Pro Shops
By Walt Hickey
Major League Baseball and the Players Association have gone to the mattresses, as the two sides have failed to come to a labor agreement and the league locked the players out. At issue is a key split in the revenues that go to the owners and the salaries that go to the players. The average MLB salary is up just 21 percent from a decade ago, and has been flat since 2015. At the same time, the average MLB team’s value has popped to $2.2 billion, and the league added $1 billion in total annual revenue from 2015 to 2019. And while players in the NFL and NBA have reaped some of their league’s gains through guaranteed percentages of revenue, ball players have not. The median salary in the MLB peaked in 2015, at $1.65 million, and today is down 30 percent to $1.15 million. Over the same period, NFL salaries are up 25 percent and NBA salaries are up 50 percent.
The One That Got Away
Last week the Great Outdoors Group, which owns Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas, called off a merger with Sportsman’s Warehouse, another major outdoors chain with 112 locations, after scrutiny from the FTC. The news, which will maintain at least some level of competition in the outdoor retail business, will also result in Great Outdoors paying $55 million in a termination fee. Bass Pro Shops is in fact the third-most government subsidized retailer in the United States just behind Amazon and Sears, having received $395 million in state and local incentives, more than larger retailers like Walmart and Target. All is not entirely lost, as at least when Bass Pro Shops tells the story to its family it’ll definitely make it sound like they were way closer to actually landing the catch, and that actually the company it was trying to reel in had like 167 or maybe even 500 locations, and that the boat nearly sank after FTC Chair Lina Khan looked at it, and gosh you really had to be there.
Of the 20 thoroughbreds who ran in this year’s Kentucky Derby, six of them were owned by horse-racing operations that lost a collective $600 million. Your first thought would likely be, dang, those guys are terrible at horses, but in reality those paper losses are just fine for the billionaires that own the operations, and can simply write off the losses from their rich guy hobby on their taxes. According to tax records obtained by ProPublica, tobacco tycoon Brian Kelley (worth $2.7 billion) has claimed $189 million in losses over 16 years, Campbell Soup heiress Charlotte Weber (net worth $1.6 billion) wrote off $173 million over 19 years, and Reebok’s Paul Fireman wrote off $9.3 million racing horses since 2018. Nice work if you can get it!
Saudi Arabian authorities have cracked down on cheaters in the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival’s camel beauty contest, with some 40 camels ejected from the pageant amid allegations that the ungulates received injections of Botox and other artificial performance enhancers. The breeders of camels come to the festival — which has $66 million in prize money — and jurors pick a winner based on the posture, dress, humps, necks and heads of the camels, sort of like a dog show but with less animal in-breeding and an equal amount of ridiculous rich people. This year’s crackdown revealed a host of unsavory techniques designed to get the camels looking their best, from Botox to rubber bands to fillers to hormones.
Starting on January 1, the United Arab Emirates will move its weekend from Friday–Saturday to Saturday–Sunday, and will roll out a 4 1/2-day work week for state employees. That aligns the country’s work week with much of the rest of the world, but is a departure from the norm in the Gulf region, where Friday is a holy day in Islam. That’s one reason that Fridays will now be a work day, but a half-day at that. The move only applies to government workers — including central bankers, teachers, and the government — but the government’s hope is that the private sector follows suit, and UAE aligns with the majority of the world in its work week, which could make it more competitive at attracting overseas investment compared to regional rivals.
Sokovia? Do we not remember Sokovia?
A new poll finds people are willing to look past a whole lot of stuff with a mere snap of the fingers, with the survey of 2,200 adults finding that Iron Man has a net favorability of 62 percentage points, a point higher than Captain America and Thor. Among the 1,526 self-identified Marvel fans in the set, that net favorability rises to 78 percent for Iron Man, you know, the guy who invented Ultron, the one who caused that whole Civil War incident and incarcerated people like Hawkeye, the origin of a schism in the sole organization capable of confronting a persuasive extraterrestrial threat, you know, that guy. This isn’t to say that he didn’t do some good things, but net 78 points is nuts, like the Pope has a net favorability of merely 68 points among Catholics, and if the Pope invented an Ultron I’m sure he’d take a bit of a dent. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Marvel Headquarters to pitch my What If? comic, “What If The Pope Invented Ultron?”
Right now 0.3 percent of electricity generation worldwide comes from geothermal power. There’s enough heat coming up from the inside of the Earth to meet twice the planet’s global energy needs, but it’s not especially popular in part because at the current state of the art it’s pricier compared to other energy sources, even renewables. The capital investment needed for a geothermal project is around $3,000 to $6,000 per kilowatt, much higher than the $1,700 per kilowatt for wind and $2,100 per kilowatt for solar. There are perks, though: wind and sun are volatile, but the Earth keeps pumping the same kind of heat, which means reliability gains. However, the infrastructure bill sets $84 million aside at the Department of Energy to build out four demonstration facilities to test newer versions of geothermal tech in the hopes that efficiency gains can be proven out and the ROI gets more manageable. The hope is to get geothermal up to 60 gigawatts by 2050, per the Department of Energy, which would increase its share of generation from 0.4 percent to 9 percent of generation in the U.S.
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